One of the most important things I learned from working in a bike shop is always aim for the head and pull the trigger twice. That’s right, this month we’re going back to the Pit to talk some shop. Sure, that opening line might just be a hook to pull you in, but there’s no denying that working in a bike shop is far more emotionally draining than you might think.
Mountain bike forums are full of threads about shops that have crappy service and surly employees. Yet you’ll always find that the shops that have the most complaints also have the most people backing them up. Clearly there’s something else at work here. Could it be that the people who work in bike shops are just that: people?
Which one's the Monkey and which ones the Rat? Irrelevant, they're both too
mutated to tell anymore...
No, they’re not. They’re monkeys and rats. But like people, they have their good days and bad days. The good days far outweigh the bad ones, but like I said, you can’t deny that there’s some dark juju at work when you choose employment that is part of other people’s leisure. You must sacrifice certain normal human outlets of stress so that you can appear cheerful and helpful, even when you are feeling anything but.
It may seem like a dream job to a lot of you reading this. Truly, it’s a great way to waste several years of your life. You get to see all the new gear, you get insane deals on bikes and parts, and you are totally immersed in the culture. All this is true. On the other hand…
You get to be completely coated in grime, guck, muck, dirt, oil, grease, dog crap, and other bodily fluids. The pay ain’t all that great. Most of the latest and greatest parts that the industry comes out with don’t work like they’re supposed to (and they NEVER fit right). Chances are good that you’re a guy, and you’re severely limiting your contact with members of the opposite sex through your choice of employment (for you few ladies out there who are working in shops, THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!). Oh, and the targets- I mean ‘customers’- can really wear a guy down.
The dark side of working in a bike shop....naked English dudes.
Most people that come into a shop are totally reasonable. Hey, we’re all into bikes, so we’ve automatically got a lot in common. Seriously, you guys are all great. But what happens is that there’s a serious difference of viewpoint from a shop rat and the customer. Let’s face it, for most of you the bike is an escape, and a lot of times when you can’t actually get out and ride you’re dropping by the shop as a way of getting away from the pressures of your real life. For the monkey that works on your bike, this IS the real life. Yeah, I know, it’s a pretty enjoyable life in a lot of ways, but everyone no matter how hard they try are going to get a bit fed up with it sooner or later. So there’s often a disconnect that results in some friction.Take this typical scenario
: “Can you get me that new Shiskamabob Crank Enhancer for the weekend?”Monkey
: “Ummm, yeah, but you know that we don’t know if it actually works yet, and it’s sort of expensive, and we gotta order it in. Can you pre-pay for it?”Customer
: “What, pre-pay? But I can get it online for peanuts in 12 seconds. Maybe if you just installed one that I bought, and I’ll pay you with these bits of string in my pocket?”Monkey
(who by the way is easily impressed by bits of pocket string, and doesn’t want to lose the sale): “Well, how ‘bout if I give you a bit of a deal and install it for you for Saturday?”
Of course, then what happens is the higher echelon monkey at the supplier (who only speaks a bastard form of Inuit/Cajun spoken only in a few random basements on the Chic-Choc peninsula) totally blows the order, ending up in having to last minute ship the display model for an early Saturday delivery that shows up late AND missing parts. But of course, the dedicated and competent shop rat will come through with some custom machining and make that little bugger fit the way it was supposed to, and probably only a few minutes late. Typically what happens next is one of two scenarios. The customer has at this point either moved on to the next big fad (oh, I don’t really want the Crank Extender now. Do you have any matching white seat post covers?), or they take the installed part out for a short ride, where as is typical with any new part in the bike world it promptly implodes and causes massive damage to the rest of the customers ride, and probably their freshly shaven upper thigh as well. This of course, would be the fault of the shop.
“Yeah, that looks like a warranty issue to me. Do you mind waiting for 6 months for a replacement? That was the last one in stock…”
That’s a pretty reasonable response to a totally unreasonable situation. But don’t think that this is the last comment on the situation at the shop. Far from it. You gotta know that if you cause a situation in the store, that you will be discussed, dismembered, disembowelled, etc., ad infinitum during the traditional bs session at the end of the day. Any good shop does this, it’s the way that they cope.
Shoulda cleaned that dog shit off the tire....
I worked in bike shops for about 10 years or so, and with a serious cast of characters. We had a million laughs in the back of the old Cove (the original building in the Deepest and Darkest of Deep Cove). I really wish I’d been able to hide a video camera in the back of the shop to catch some of the dumb crap that used to go on at the end of the day, but this was way back in the 20th Century, and video cameras were about the same size as a Prius, so even in a shop as disorganized as that one, it was hard to conceal one.
The main thing was that we had a kitchen in the back of the building, and at the end of the day we’d have some beers and laughs over some food that NumNutz would cook up for us. I think most of what we laughed at was probably not all that funny, but it was a stress relief. It was pretty crazy some days. On a busy Saturday, we might move 30 or 40 bikes out that door, and with a staff of around 6 or 7 people that’s a damn busy day.
At the end of the shift, we’d all sit down in that back kitchen and let it all out. Nothing personal, mind you…no wait. We’d get totally personal and rip on anyone and anything. The thing is, if you didn’t let it out there in the back, you’d end up letting ‘er fly on the sales floor, which isn’t a terribly nice thing to do. It did happen occasionally, and I’m not going to deny that I saw some pretty damn funny things when someone lost their cool, but it’s just not the way to maintain a business. We’d generally just save it up for the end of the day and blow off that accumulated steam in private.
Where the kitchen used to be at the Cove.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, and the pressures of a rapidly expanding business meant that the kitchen had to go. Actually, it got buried in bike boxes so it just wasn’t that useful. Our ways of blowing off steam were suddenly limited. One result can be seen in one of Jörli Ricker’s old videos (not sure if it was Shift or Ride to the Hills, but they’re both worth seeing…). In Wade’s seggie, you’ll see him hard at work in the back of the old shop, smashing the bejesus out of an old Pipeline frame. That’s not an act folks. That’s the darkness of the Pit coming through. Better that he took it out on a beater frame like that than on your ride though, don’t ya think?
Other folks, like the aforementioned NumNutz, adopted eccentric styles of dress or mannerisms of speech. So to this day if someone wearing overalls and rubber boots tells me that, “Horsey is my mommy” I don’t even flinch. I still don’t have an answer to that, but at least I don’t flinch.
There are some more traditional and obvious ways to blow off steam. After all, the monkeys and rats are surrounded by thousands or millions of dollars’ worth of new bikes and parts. Just go for a ride. It’s not always possible due to light or fatigue, but when it is, look out. It’s always worth it to hook up for a ride with a shop employee, just be warned that sandbagging tourists never goes out of style.
I remember this one guy, we’ll call him Ed (oops, that’s actually his real name. Oh well…). Ed was the newly crowned Expert XC Champ of New Brunswick, which is to say, “Who gives a shit.” However, he was jonesing to go for a ride on the legendary North Shore, and I was looking for some reason to blow off work a half hour early, so away we went. Now, picture this if you will. You, as Ed, are full of P and V after your recent win and are covered head to toe in the latest colourful lycra plumage of your sponsors. You’ve got a new, rad race-tuned XC bike. Standing in front of you is some long-haired dirtbag, greasy and dirty, riding some haggard and beat down Shore tested rig, and rocking a t-shirt with the sleeves torn off and cut-off jeans because the riding shorts are at home and it’s too far to go grab them if we’re going riding. You’re gonna feel like you’ve got a big advantage right out of the gate.
It gets even better for you as the ride starts. When you start up Mt. Seymour from Deep Cove, it goes straight up for a bit. It’s a paved bike path, but stupid steep. As we tend to go up to around 2400’ on a normal ride, I like to warm up slow. Granny gear slow. I’ve never been a real dynamic climber anyway. Instead of the high octane, my motor is more of a diesel. Takes a while to get ‘er going, but once I’m warm I can keep the revs up for a long time.
So we get to the bottom of the Old Buck climb (and I mean the old version that was all mucky and rocky, not that blue gravel sanitized travesty that’s there now), and Ed turns to me and asks, “Do you mind if I do some intervals? I gotta get some training in.”
Sure buddy. It’s your funeral.
Of course my dog bites. Especially brightly coloured lycra clad Eurotrash...
So as I get up the first part of the Old Buck, you know, to the part where it actually gets steep, I’m feeling like I’m finally warmed up and ready to jam. Ed is stacked trailside, literally frothing at the mouth. Mucous is smeared down his chin and dripping onto his chest. We’re all of about 20 minutes in to the ride, and Holmes has hit the wall. I gotta give him credit, he hung on for the rest of the ride, but we were out there for a full four hours of thrashing obscure tech-gnar old school North Shore singletrack.
Felt pretty good, and I was sooooo nice to problematic customers for the rest of the week.
Unfortunately, it can be really hard to find four hours and some patsy dumb to carry the sandbags for that long. Hang on….don’t let that scare you off. You really should try to hook up for a ride with your local mechanic, just don’t ever underestimate them.
This is what happens when your mechanic is only operating at 95% efficiency. It's gotta be perfect every time.
But back to my point, it’s not like there’s always enough time in a day to get out ride, especially at the busiest time of the year.
Luckily there’s video games. You can do things in the virtual world that you could never dream of in the real world. It’s maybe not quite as satisfying, but it’s more than enough to take the edge off. Rebuild your forks in half an hour? No problem. Just let me machine gun this police car first and I’ll have that for you in a jiffy. For every exasperating moment I had in the service department, I could take it out on the legions of mindless sprites on my console. And strangely, the worse it gets in the shop, the better you get at gaming. You get motivation, determination, and the cold face of the true killer…oh I’m just taking the piss. But I did learn that it’s best to aim for the head, and you may as well pull the trigger twice because at worst you might miss twice and besides, there’s going to be an ammo powerup just around the corner.
So the next time you feel the warmth of a laser heating up that space on your forehead between your eyebrows, here’s some solid advice to heed…
How to Get Really Good Deals and Service at a Bike Shop
First of all, bribes work. Most shop employees are not well paid, and are very open to graft. The key here is to max out your investment. Just paying them cash isn’t going to net you much of a return, and besides it often comes across as crass. Instead, try beer. A six-pack of good beer (Bud’s just for smoking) is only around $12. One of those every once in a while will not only save you hundreds of dollars, but it will also get you priority service, more attention to your detail, and exclude you from the post-mayhem ridicule session. Actually, it will often get you invited IN to the experience. Depending on where you live (ie – BC), you may find that other substances besides beer will open that door, but I leave that to your discretion. I’m not judging anyone; I’m just saying local variances exist in the preferred currency for bribes.
Secondly, pick a shop and stick with them. Shopping around is smart, for sure, but you will find that a good shop will always reward loyalty. It may seem tricky at first to find a good shop, but I’ll let you in on a little secret; all shops are pretty damn good. Hang out around a few until you find the one that suits you, and then stick with them. Jumping back and forth between competitors will get you some deals in the short term, but over time you’ll just get a reputation among the shop rat underground as a high maintenance customer and the service will fall off.
Third, talk to the mechanics. Sales guys are great. They’re very personable and friendly and easy to get along with. Good mechanics are surly and miserable. Why? Because they don’t have to be nice if they’re any good at their job. I bet some of you readers are still in high school, where a pass is 50% and an A is anything over about 80%. Imagine if your mechanic only tightened up 80% of the bolts on your bike. In the world of the bike mechanic, a pass is 99.5%, and a good mechanic performs at so close to 100% as to make no difference at all. So it will really pay off to be nice to your wrench. Find out what beer they like, and make sure they get some occasionally. Coffee is also something that most denizens of the Pit enjoy. Oh, and always…ALWAYS clean your bike before you bring it in
.And now the bonus Bonus: NumNutz Bike Shop Red Sauce Pasta
Horsey IS his Mommy...
*Not exactly like he used to make, but pretty damn close. This is one of those recipes that seems to change over time.Ingredients
0.5-1 bulb (not clove, BULB) of garlic to taste
1 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 small head of broccoli
1 small zucchini
1 sweet bell pepper
1 can of red kidney beans (or mixed beans works well too)
2 cans of tomatoes
A bunch of sweet basil flakes
Oh and love. Just don’t add too much or it will get salty.Directions
I use a cast iron fry pan and a wok for this. Chop up your onion and garlic finely. Set aside. Open you chipotle peppers and take one or two of them and chop them up. Put them with the onion and garlic. I use lots of garlic and peppers myself, but not everyone is into that much flava. I leave it in your hands.
Now chop up your broccoli, zucchini, and pepper. Keep them separate from the garlic/onion. I cook them separately to start.
Fire up the stove on high. Heat some oil in the frying pan AND in the wok. Drop the veggies into the wok and cover. Stir occasionally so they don’t burn too much. A little is fine, but what you want is for them to steam up under the lid. At the same time, toss the onion, garlic, and pepper into the frying pan and get them nice and brown. You may find yourself coughing like you’ve been pepper sprayed, that’s normal. Turn the fan on, ya dummy. When they’re nice and brown, toss the kidney beans into the onion and garlic and stir it up until well mixed. Drop them into the wok with everything else. You’re done with the frying pan at this point.
For the tomatoes, if you have whole ones, stab a knife into the open can and massacre the contents. Drain the excess water off (you don’t have to be too diligent here, it just helps speed the cooking time). Add to the wok.
Add a good amount of basil. Like at least a quarter cup. I kind of just dump it in there. Stir the crap out of it. Leave it on high until the whole thing starts to bubble up pretty good, then turn it down to medium-low. You want to have a lid on there, but leave the spoon in so that it can reduce. It’s gotta cook for at least an hour, so adjust the heat accordingly. It needs to be simmering, maybe a bit higher if it’s watery.
Every once in a while, take a wooden spoon or spatula and not only give it a good stir but mash up the veggies. This will really ‘sauce’ it up.
When it’s just about done, you can add some mushrooms. I like them added later so that they don’t get all smooshed up in there.
You can also add any other veggies you think might be nice in there.
Serve over spaghettini noodles (you can put more spaghettini away than normal spaghetti. I don’t know why, but you can and trust me…you’re going to want to) and liberally douse with parmesan.
As this is a veggie sauce, it keeps very well, even if you don’t refrigerate it. Like all great sauces, it gets even better after is sits for a day. I quite often make a huge batch and freeze it.